Bees are an essential part of the global ecosystem. They pollinate over 80 percent of flowering plants and 70 of the top 100 crops that humans eat. In fact, one out of every three bites of food you eat requires the pollination of bees. But bees are getting sick. Some species are even endangered. As a beekeeper, you may feel helpless when your hive gets sick.
There are many reasons why bees' numbers are rapidly decreasing. Varroa mites are the number one problem honey bees face today. While they can be seen on bees, sucking their blood until they die of blood loss, it is the mites that you cannot see which do the most damage to the hive. As part of their reproduction process, mites enter the cells of the bee larva and feed on the growing bees. This causes the baby bees to be born sick and deformed. Sick and deformed bees are less productive and do not live as long as healthy bees.
What can you do? One natural, environmentally friendly way to protect your bees is to use lemongrass. Essential oils are effective against varroa mites and tracheal mites, which are less of a mite problem, and prevents nosema, which is an intestinal disease. When choosing essential oils to protect your bees, select brands with a reputation for quality. Some brands we recommend include Naturenics, Gya Labs, Now Essential Oils and Sun Essential Oils.
How do you use essential oils to protect your bees from diseases and pests? You can use a one-to-one base of sugar syrup through the bee syrup feeder tube for hives. Just add a splash of essential oil or oils to the sugar water portion of the mix. Place semi-solid winter or brood building patties on top of the frames above the brood. Use wax paper to separate the patties. You can either buy these pre-mixed with essential oils online or mix your own, so you control the content and quantities. It is less expensive to mix your own. Some beekeepers are sensitive to smoke, so they use sugar water to distract their bees while they are working in their hives in place of a smoker to distract the bees. This is an attractive option for many people. Mix essential oils such as lemongrass oil for bees into the sugar water spray mixture. Your bees will pause their work to lick the mixture off of themselves.
Be cautious and wear skin and eye protection. Some essential oils are very strong and may cause skin irritation in some individuals. Remember, using essential oils to protect your honey bees is only one part of the integrated pest management (IPM) strategy. Today, we will review the best essential oils for bees.
Lemongrass oil is the most popular essential oil for maintaining healthy bees and for good reason. It promotes bee health when they are sick, deters pests such as a variety of mites and is sometimes used to attract swarms of feral bees. But don't worry. Using it as a personal skin product will not attract swarms of bees to you.
What is it for?
If your bees are sick, mix the lemongrass essential oil with simple syrup and feed it to your bees. Its antibacterial and antifungal properties will help your bees ward off infections and prevent the spread of what they do catch. Be careful using this on weak hives, as it may attract robber bees.
How Do You Use it?
To use lemongrass oil for bees, mix one cup of water with one teaspoon of lemongrass oil, one teaspoon of tea tree oil and one teaspoon of spearmint or wintergreen oil. Mix this in the blender very well for five minutes. Do not heat this. Add enough water to make two quarts, and this will be your concentrate. Mix one cup of your concentrate to a gallon of cool, simple syrup. This concentrate will last you eight feedings.
There are many other recipes for lemongrass oil for bees as well.
Although prices are always fluctuating, lemongrass essential oil can be purchased for around $9 per ounce or around $20 for four ounces, which works out to about four dollars per ounce, on Amazon.
how it compares
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How to Use it
There are several ways to use thyme essential oil. We have already included a recipe above for mixing it with lemongrass oil and spearmint oil.
To protect against termites, you can add six to eight drops to 16 ounces of mineral oil and shake the solution well. From there, squirt the solution on a paper towel in the “SS” pattern. Place the paper towel inside the hive, over the frames. Keep this setup until three weeks before the flow of honey and then for some time afterwards.
There are other ways to protect your hive against termites though. For example, you can add 23 to 35 drops of thyme essential oil to 16 ounces of mineral oil and put a fogger into each hive for 10 to 12 seconds each.
Thyme oil is an essential oil with active antifungal properties. It contains thymol which acts as a natural fumigant. This confuses the mites and blocks their air passages, so they suffocate. Varroa mites are a global significant factor in the killing of honey bees. Whichever brand of essential oil you choose, we strongly recommend choosing one which is 100% natural and therapeutic grade. It should not be diluted. You can mix it with water or other essential oils later.
How to Use it
There are several methods you can use to administer your spearmint oil into your beehive.
You can form patties from your spearmint oil. These can be purchased if you would like, and they are intended to be laid on top of the frames above the brood. Use this method during winter. These patties are used by the bees for food to survive the winter when their natural food resources such as nuts, fruits, and flowers are not blooming and growing. If your patties are homemade, just add a few splashes of essential oils like spearmint oil and lemongrass oil to the mixture.
Add spearmint oil to the sugar water you spray your bees with when you are working in their hives. Bees are highly organized creatures that like to be clean when they work, so they are distracted by the sugar water and immediately proceed to lick themselves clean. If you add essential oils to the sugar water you distract the bees with when you work in their hives, they will end up ingesting the essential oils. This helps to protect them when mites attempt to suck their blood because spearmint oil is toxic to mites but safe for bees.
Administer this treatment and prevention method by mixing it with the syrup that you feed your bees. Use a one-to-one ratio of sugar water with a splash of spearmint essential oil to the syrup that you feed your bees for nutrition when food may be a little scarce.
Spearmint essential oil, similar to thyme oil, masks the scent of bees, making it harder for mites to find them. Varroa mites are the biggest danger that honey bees face today. It does not interfere with or mimic the pheromones that bees produce. Thus, normal colony life is not disrupted. It is important to use natural products rather than pesticides, so bees do not get sick and honey and other products bees produce. Spearmint oil is also highly effective for recruiting new, healthy bees to the colony. You may want to use this in conjunction with lemongrass oil for extra potency regarding increasing the size of your colonies.
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How to Use it
Tea tree oil is often used to form grease patties to prevent against mites. It can be substituted with the much less expensive spearmint oil with no loss of effectiveness.
Tea tree essential oil prevents the reproduction of tracheal mites. If they cannot reproduce, once they are dead, your bees will not be bothered by them anymore. Tea tree oil is also directly toxic to varroa mites, a critical threat to honeybees, a crucial part of our ecosystem. When a varroa mite comes into direct contact with tea tree oil, it dies within a few minutes. Unfortunately, this requires the infected bee to come into direct contact with the grease patty. This is not a very realistic expectation, so grease patties are better used as a form of population control for varroa mites. Fortunately, tea tree oil is effective for controlling the reproduction rates of varroa mites when you mix the essential oil with the syrup that you feed your bees with.
Bees are too important to our diet, ecosystem and economy to be left unhelped. And using pesticides with unnatural chemicals in them will affect bees' honey and wax, so it is of the utmost importance that you use all natural essential oils to protect your bees from diseases and pests. No matter which essential oil you choose, know you are making a quality choice for the environment as a whole and whoever consumes the honey your bees produce. Out of the four essential oils we reviewed, we recommend lemongrass oil because it is the only one we can confidently rate at five out of five stars.
Lemongrass oil does not just protect bees against diseases and pests. It also attracts new, healthy queens to the hive and may attract swarms, if you are looking to expand existing hives or create new ones. Just be careful not to use on weak hives as it can attract robber bees. Lemongrass oil may cause allergic reactions and make the skin for sensitive to UV rays from the sun. Be careful when using the undiluted form of this product. Wear protection while handling it and do not get it on skin which you then expose to the sun.
There is no wrong essential oil for bees as they are all natural options but lemongrass oil for bees is. Just don't forget to buy therapeutic-grade, all natural essential oils that are not diluted. They can be diluted later. It is advisable to combine several essential oils to combine their positive effects. For example, mix lemongrass oil with spearmint oil to further assist in deterring and killing different types of mites.
There are several methods for the application of essential oils for bees. You can add it to a sugar water spray when working in your bees' hives if you do not use a smoker to distract your bees. You can create grease parties, but these get very messy in the summer and are less effective for killing mites. Finally, you can add the essential oils to the sugar syrup feed you use to supplement your bees' diet and nutrition.
Thyme essential oil, containing thymol, and spearmint essential oil are very similar. However, spearmint oil has a 100% mortality rate for varroa mites, which are the number one killer of honey bees today. It is also significantly less expensive than thyme oil.